The Current

Irregular border crossers aren't 'real refugees,' says Conservative candidate

Conservative Arpan Khanna says Canada is welcoming people who are "not real refugees" at an unofficial border crossing in Quebec. The NDP's Jenny Kwan called the comments "extremely offensive."

Arpan Khanna's comments about asylum seekers in Quebec are 'extremely offensive,' says NDP's Jenny Kwan

A July poll commissioned by CBC News suggests that the majority of Canadians would favour accepting skilled migrants over more refugees. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)
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The Liberal government has made a mess of immigration by welcoming people who are not "real refugees," says a Conservative candidate.

"Canada is a very, very compassionate country — we're Canadian, and we should be helping those that need help the most," Arpan Khanna, Conservative candidate for Brampton North in Ontario, told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch during a three-party panel discussion about immigration. 

"Those coming from upstate New York — based on a tweet that the prime minister put out saying 'Welcome to Canada' — are not real refugees," he said. 

Khanna was referring to a tweet sent by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in January 2017, which has been criticized for encouraging people to seek asylum by crossing into Canada along Roxham Road in upstate New York at the Quebec border.

Jenny Kwan, NDP candidate for Vancouver East, called Khanna's comments "extremely offensive."

The Conservatives "are vilifying refugees and they are trying to paint them as people who we should demonize, that they're not deserving to have asylum support," she said.

Close to 50,000 people have entered Canada at the unofficial border crossing point in the last two years. 

The crossing draws people from all over the world who are seeking asylum in Canada, many of whom are fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in their home countries.

When they cross, they are usually met by RCMP officers, arrested and then processed to determine if they can apply for refugee status. 

In 2018, Canada accepted 28,100 refugees out of 55,400 claims filed, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

While the United Nations has ranked Canada as a world leader in welcoming refugees, a July poll commissioned by CBC News suggests that the majority of Canadians would favour accepting skilled migrants.

Khanna said that if elected, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer "will make sure the system is fair, that it's compassionate to help those that need help the most, and that there's order, which we don't see right now." 

According to Statistics Canada, the country admitted 313,580 immigrants in 2018-19, one of the highest levels in Canadian history. That figure includes refugees. 

Kwan criticized the Liberals for supporting the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. Under the deal, refugees must make their asylum claim in the first country they enter, so a migrant travelling through the U.S. to try to enter Canada would be sent back to the U.S. at the Canadian border.

She argued that tougher U.S. policies on immigration were driving refugees north, and forcing them to make irregular crossings so that they wouldn't immediately be turned back.

That's led to refugees "risking life and limb," and "creating havoc frankly at the border communities," she said.

"If we suspended the Safe Third Country Agreement , people would be able to cross over into Canada in an orderly fashion."

Two refugees from Ghana who walked into Canada during dangerous cold in December say it was worth the risk:

Two refugees from Ghana who walked into Canada during dangerous cold in December say it was worth the risk. 2:01

Ahmed Hussen, Liberal candidate for York South-Weston in Ontario, said that the deal is under review, but that any change "requires the consent of all countries, the United States and Canada, and that work is ongoing."

"It's also about making sure that we resource our border officers adequately, making sure that we resource the Immigration and Refugee Board and fill the vacancies — but also resource that body for the actual number of asylum seekers in Canada." 

He argued that the Liberals had "closed the gaps" left behind by Stephen Harper's Conservative government, which he said has led to the current backlog.

Khanna argued that to solve the problem we need to have "an actual leadership role, not blame other governments."

"We have to make sure this is a priority and we have to get things done," he said.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Max Paris, Mary-Catherin McIntosh and Samira Mohyeddin.

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